The Red Wolf!

An Endangered Species in the United States

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Background Information

The Red Wolf,Canis rufus, a smaller and more slender cousin of the timber wolf, originally roamed throughout the eastern United States as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. Like the timber wolf, the red wolf was persecuted relentlessly by farmers, ranchers and hunters who mistakenly believed that this cinnamon-colored wolf posed a threat to livestock and a risk to human safety. Under the guise of "predator control," these small wolves were shot, trapped, poisoned and clubbed to death, until their populations could endure no more. By 1967, the red wolf was considered to be an endangered species, and by 1980 the red wolf was declared officially extinct in the wild. These activities had reduced the Red Wolf population to a small area along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana.

Unlike the Grey wolf, the Red wolf does not live in packs but more often in pairs or small family groups. Red wolves breed once a year and have litters of two to eight pups. Preferred habitat is warm, moist, and densely vegetated; although they were also present in pine forest, bottom land hardwood forests, coastal prairies, and marshes.

Location of the Red Wolf in the United States

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The Red Wolf's Lot in Life

Threats to the Red Wolf's Livelihood

Three problems reduced the Red wolf population-- hunting of the wolves as a livestock predator, destruction of its habitat through logging and agriculture, and hybridization with coyotes. As the wolf has retreated, the coyote has expanded its range to fill the Red wolf's predatory role. Hybridization with Coyotes or Red Wolf x Coyote hybrids is the primary threat to the species' persistence in the wild. While hybridization with Coyotes was a factor in the Red Wolf's initial demise in the wild, it was not detected as a problem in north-eastern North Carolina until approximately 1992. Indeed, northeastern North Carolina was determined to be ideal for Red Wolf reintroductions because of a purported absence of coyotes . However, during the 1990s, the Coyote population apparently became well established in the area. Human induced mortality (vehicles and gunshot) can be significant. However, the threat this mortality represents to the population is unclear. Most vehicle deaths occurred early in the reintroduction and were likely due to naive animals.

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Conservation Efforts for the Red Wolves

To protect the species from extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife Service initiated efforts to locate and capture as many Red Wolves as possible for the purposes of establishing a program to breed the species in captivity and one day reintroduce the species into a portion of its former range. More than 400 canids were captured in coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana, but only 17 were identified as Red Wolves. 14 of these Red Wolves would become the founding members of the captive breeding program and the ancestors of all the Red Wolves existing today. Currently, adaptive management efforts are making progress in reducing the threat of coyotes to the Red Wolf population in northeastern North Carolina. Other threats, such as habitat fragmentation, disease, and premature mortality, are of concern in the restoration of Red Wolves. Efforts to reduce the threats are presently being explored.